It's obvious to everyone now that you really don't want to check your cameras and lens in as luggage when you fly. The risk of damage and/or loss is just too great, and if you have a job waiting at the other end of the trip it'll make you crazy to arrive without the tools you need to get the work done. I have to confess something here; I am a very nervous flyer when it comes to work. I routinely get to our local airport at least two and a half hours before my scheduled flight. I have anxiety about getting the gear from the car to the Skycaps. If the lines are long I am indecisive about whether I should wait at the curbside check-in or take my chances with the agents inside the terminal. When traveling I am very much like James Thurber character (nervous to a fault) and, at 61, I've given up trying to make massive changes to my own travel psychology.
Since that is the case I just concentrate on trying to control what I usually can. My upcoming trip to the Toronto area is a classic example. I'm videotaping interviews on location there, and also taking photographs. When we did our first in this series of videos we shot here in the Austin area I had the luxury of brining along everything I even remotely thought I might need. Or want. I had one case full of cameras and lenses. All the good stuff along with back-up cameras and lenses for every possibility. We could easily have done a nice, four camera shoot. I hauled along two big video tripods as well as a shoulder mount and a monopod.
If we needed light stands in our interior locations we had five stout Manfrotto ten footers, with a couple of C-Stands riding along as contingency support. Lights?As many as you could wish for, along with about 150 feet of extension cords. But I also had an able assistant, a cavernous car and a marvelous equipment cart that holds about 500 pounds.
Take away the assistant, take away the cart and the car, and then pack down for a five day trip. Add in the need to get everything into two checked bags on an airplane, along with one check-in process, and you've already got my cortisol levels rising. Then there's the line for TSA. Add in one encounter each with Canadian customs and U.S. customs and top it all off with getting everything to a rental car and wedging it in. The solution seems to be two checked, wheeled bags and a stout carry-on. But not too stout; you don't want to take the risk that your big, wheeled, Think Tank (original) Airport Security case will not find a rightful place in the overhead compartments and will be required to be gate checked.
I think I've done a good job figuring out how to pack the checked luggage. I'm praying that sturdy lights and microphones in padded cases will withstand the baggage handling carnage. If the light stands or tripod don't survive I've already figured out where the closest camera store is to the shooting location and how to get there. My big concern always comes back to the cameras...
I still shiver with the memory of being shunted onto a much smaller regional jet on a recent project. It was a last minute change. The overheads weren't big enough to handle the Think Tank case and it was also too big to fit under the seat. I was forced to gate check it but not before I pulled out three cameras, put lenses on each one, and draped them over my body to carry them onto the plane. In that particular situation everything worked out and the rest of the gear arrived along with me unscathed.
I was going to default to one of the big Domke bags in the closet for the cameras on this trip but at the last minute I found myself looking for photo backpacks on Amazon. Almost on a dare with myself I ordered one from their line of "Amazon Basics." It looked good on the website....
It arrived yesterday and, after pulling it out of its nest of double boxes, I put it next to the equipment cabinet and got to work. The backpack is nicely padded and has velcro-equipped dividers inside that are easily reconfigurable. The backpack current has a Sony A7rii with a 24-70mm Zeiss zoom mounted, a Sony a6300, a Sony RX10ii, a Sony RX10iii, a Sony 18-105 G PZ lens, a Contax 50mm f1.7, a Rokinon Cine 85mm t1.5, a Rokinon Cine 14mm t3.1, 10 Sony camera batteries, 3 large batteries for the Aputure Monitor, and chargers. Many chargers. The side pockets have a phone, passport, car key, phone charger, pen, my itinerary and boarding passes. The padded pocket for a 17 inch laptop has my burgeoning collection of notes, script, shot list and contact information for the job. I'll probably toss in a Kindle Fire as well. One always needs a good book....
The rear straps on the backpack seem well integrated and I'm pleased that the interior space is both well padded and bright orange. The bright color makes finding all the little black parts that go along with cameras much easier. The whole package is slimmer, smaller and lighter in weight than my (now forlorn) Airport Security Case and I'm reasonable sure it will fit under the seat in front of me on a plane; should it come down to that.
Here's the funny thing (at least to me...): This backpack cost $69, including shipping. It is almost identical to the backpacks from Tenba, Think Tank, Tarmac and others but at half to one third the price.
It's a whole new packing adventure but I think I found the perfect size back pack for commercial air travel with cameras and expensive toys.
Many places to put lenses and cameras. Doesn't that SmallRig case look great on the a7rii?
And for all those people that just feel they have to travel with a laptop computer....a padded pocket for a 17 inch laptop. (or papers, a Kindle and an extra mic cable..)
I'd buy one again!